Giant Otter Shrew

The giant otter shrew is a relative of the Malagasy tenrecs, but it lives on the African mainland. It occupies wetlands and streams that run through the rainforests of Central Africa. In the rainy season, otter shrews cross dry land to hunt in many of the temporary pools that form. Although they are geographically separated from the other tenrecs, the 3 otter shrews are believed to be a subfamily of the Tenrecidae. The giant otter shrew is, overall, the largest living insectivore and does bear a strong superficial resemblance to the otter, with its flattened head and heavy tail. Its coat is dense with a glossy overlayer of guardhairs.

The giant otter shrew swims with its tail, which is flattened to form a vertical flipper. The tail is swung from side to side to power the otter shrew through the water. The legs play no role in swimming. The paws are not webbed and the hind legs are tucked against the body.

The giant otter shrew has a long, rounded body covered in a sleek brown coat, which consists of long, oily guard hairs over fine underfur. A layer of air trapped between the two layers keeps the animal's skin dry and warm. The nostrils are sealed during swimming.

The giant otter shrews hunt at night and rely on their sense of touch to find prey. They emerge at dusk to hunt for crabs, fish and frogs, which they pursue through the water with great agility. Without webbing, their fingers and toes remain relatively dexterous, but it is their thick whiskers that are their main sense organ. The otter shrews grab prey in their mouths or pin down larger victims with their forepaws.

Giant otter shrews live in burrows with entrances below water level. They live solitary lives, but consort in pairs shortly before mating. Litters of 2 to 3 young are born throughout the year.

Distribution: Central Africa.

Habitat: Forest streams and swamps.

Food: Crabs, frogs and fish.

Size: 58 cm (22.75 in); 625 g (22 oz).

Maturity: Unknown.

Breeding: Mating takes place in rainy season. Litters usually made up of twins.

Life span: Unknown.

Status: Endangered.